Monsters

I sat on the red and white mosaic floor, elbows propped up on knees, arms dangling idly, and took a long draw of my cigarette. The tip blazed and burned and I could hear the soft crackling sound of smoldering paper. I blew the acrid smoke out over the wrought iron railing and into the courtyard where the sounds of families chattering in Hungarian mingled with the dinnertime sounds of pots and pans rattling and water running. The sky darkened slowly with the coming of night and a soft breeze rustled my hair and the same dirty clothes I had been wearing for the last three days. I was alone. Aimless. Without purpose. But free…at least in some ways.

What an incredibly specific and unique feeling. It reminded me of late summer evenings in the cul-de-sac growing up. The warm Santa Ana winds that tasted like the setting sun. The sky ablaze with the fire of twilight. Small, tiny moments of peace and letting go. Isolated pockets of time where nothing else matters but that lived experience.

Idealized, romanticized, nostalgic. So beautiful, in part because it could never last. Part of me wishes I had been better at tolerating being in such an uncertain environment, that I could have stayed “free” longer. It’s hard to let go…

What would it be like to just live each and every moment as it occurs? To drop the story lines and accept the feelings that arise without trying to draw them out, avoid them, anticipate them, or make them last forever — that sounds like real freedom to me. Freedom from the fallacious lessons I have learned and taught to myself. Lessons from another life that are so hard to unlearn. Lessons like “you don’t matter,” or “hide yourself, hide the way you feel, or you will be forever disappointed.”

I am finally starting to unpack some of the things that I put away to prepare myself for the Peace Corps, to batten down the hatches in preparation for the tumultuous sea change I knew was coming. Old, painful truths. Things that feel deep and ancient. I feel these truths knocking on the door, pressing in, demanding to be heard, felt, and understood. Keeping them at bay is only causing me more pain, but some truths feel too hard to hold.

We like to think that only monsters or bad people can hurt us. But you don’t have to be a monster to cause pain to the ones you love — this is a truth I know all too well. Good people cause pain all the time, every day. We say “it wasn’t that bad.” We say “it could have been worse.” We conceal the impact even from ourselves — especially from ourselves. Because how could we accept that things that were so normal to us are actually the source of our pain?

There are so many tiny, beautiful things to enjoy in this world. So many small little moments, the very simplicity of which makes our lives so precious. But to see those things, to be awake, is to see everything. There is no picking and choosing. Joy and excitement and amusement and love let out everything else, too. Sometimes joy and happiness are the absence or relief of their opposite. Sometimes it feels easier to stay asleep.

I want to wake up. I want to be free. I want to accept the painful truths of my life and let them fill me, to become part of the whole instead of keeping them hidden away. I want my light to shine brightly. I want my heart, full of love, to be seen.

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Seaside

Cool, whipping wind. A light spattering of rain. The sound of birds and the sea. Salt and pine.

You bring your hand up underneath your nose, the sap still sticky on your fingers, and inhale the scent as you mimic a pinching gesture and enjoy the feeling of your fingers sticking together and pulling apart.

Breathe deeply, lungs full of salt water. Exhale your Self into the fray to mingle among the waves.

Distant sun peaking through chaotic clouds. Deep grays and bright, wispy whites curling at the edges, churning into vapor, skittering across the sky at speeds that makes it seem like you could reach right up and brush the tips of your fingers along the bottom as they fly overhead. A hint of bright blue showing through here and there.

The sea churns, spraying foam. You hear the sound of a thousand tiny bubbles popping in unison…

CRASHHH! tsssssssssssss...
WhooshCRASHtssssssss...

Whipping wind just cold enough to remind you that you have skin.

Here, at the edge of the world, time stands still. All moments past, present, and future coalesce and condense into one. They are all the same, all happening at once. The person holding your hand changes. The name of the beach changes. You change. You flit back and forth through time, each time a different person but it is always You. Somehow.

What falls from the sky and churns at your feet are the same hydrogen and oxygen that help animate your body, filled with particles formed in the heart of a star infinity years ago, changed form, given and taken energy, electrons rearranged, but all the same. Just like you.

Past and future are just concepts. Words in a book. Sounds that come off of the tip of your tongue. “Now” is irrelevant.

CRASHHH! tsssssssssssss…
WhooshCRASHtssssssss…

The yelping of hungry gulls calling out to one another on waves of wind pulls you from your infinite moment and time begins to unfurl and flatten once again. The secret truths of the universe sink slowly back into the cracks to occupy the space between atoms, infinitely patient, cold, and uncaring.

And when you are done using your body, when the cells and molecules that make up you cease to be “I” and change once again for the nth time into something else, the secret truths shall remain.

Wet sand crunches quietly underfoot — stones become pebbles become grains. A gust of wind wraps around you and you plunge cold hands into coat pockets, shoulders hunched against the assault. The necessities of being assert themselves once again and the moment falls away even farther.

Here, at the end of the world, you are.

Turn yourself bravely towards the Truth. Fall into the cracks between worlds.

Meditation Notes

I once read somewhere that we call meditation a practice because we never actually achieve what we are trying to achieve when we engage in the activity. We cannot perfect it. We cannot do it right or wrong. Just as we cannot perfect ourselves. Just as what is right or wrong for ourselves is not always as clear as we like to pretend it is. I hope to keep practicing for the rest of my life;

1.13.19

Intense emotion and a feeling of opening up around the idea of ‘waking up’ and the opposing ideas of asleep and awakened.

Waking up to the world hurts. Being awake in the world is painful. There is so much around us every day that we don’t let in because seeing it and letting it in at every moment of every day would tear us to shreds. Being awake means being open to everything. It means not choosing what I let in and what I don’t.

I want to open like a tree, or a river — something primal and ancient whose very nature is openness, something that cannot help but to just be open.

1.21.19

Jagged imbalance to alignment. A floaty, soft, diffused feeling of flow, peace, calm.

The journey of meditation. Each experience feels different.

Lines, ropes, cords connecting me to others. As I breathe in and out they vibrate at different frequencies. My breath goes out along the ropes.

It’s like being dropped into a wilderness and searching for something — or trying to stop searching. Trying to find a place or a feeling, and then trying to stay with it and be still. Sometimes I don’t find it at all, no matter how long I sit. Sometimes it’s an endless desert. Sometimes it’s a cold, unforgiving mountain slope leading to a summit that remains always out of sight. But sometimes I do;

I pictured an open, airy cave in the forest. Bright light streaming into the space speckled with jagged gray and white stones, and being cut with clear, flowing water. The sound of life echoed throughout and across the chamber. I could feel the soul of the Earth there. I stopped to listen and to feel. I stopped to let nature’s spirit flow through me and to allow myself to be reminded that all of the ideas and concepts I have created, read, and discussed that separate me from that spirit are purely philosophical. At the end of the day, at the end of every day, the stardust that makes up my body, my mind, my heart, these things that I agonize over endlessly, is the same stardust that makes up the stoic and tall-standing trees, the determined and flowing river, and the colds stones wearing slowly away under the constant drip and flow of water and wind.

I pictured myself there and I experienced a feeling that I felt once many years ago — a feeling which continues to come occasionally into my mind as I sit in meditation even now. That feeling was cords, lines, or strings attached to my body and running out into the wide world. Those lines of light and thick cords run out to people, places, and things. Some of those things are known to me, others are abstract. I see people’s faces and feel my love for them. Feelings attached to places or times. Concepts like nature, freedom, kindness, and love. As I breathe in and out these connections become more taut and more relaxed. Sometimes they pull tight in a way that feels as if they may snap. Other times the lines are so slack I cannot feel what is on the other side at all. All the while I try to manage the effect these opposing forces are having on my body, to hold them all in balance.

Sometimes I feel as if I am being ripped apart by them. Other times I feel a oneness that is indescribable and incomparable, as if every thought, feeling, or idea I have ever had is shared by every human being living and dead.

22.1.19 

What is the difference between meditation and just sitting? 

You’re just sitting there.

Yes, I am. 

Semantics. Sometimes, when I am being unkind to myself, when I forget what the word “practice” means, I find myself being judgmental that I didn’t meditate the “right” way. Maybe I didn’t get where I wanted to go. Maybe the journey didn’t lead anywhere at all. Maybe I continue to feel imbalance. Maybe I am distracted and unable to focus.

Regardless of these maybes, I do think there is value even in “just sitting,” whatever that means. I think there is value in giving ourselves the time to be present in our own bodies and listen to what our minds and bodies have to tell us, to intentionally forgo distractions, even if just for a moment. To practice waking up, even if we never actually do.


Perhaps practice will allow me to see and accept that all of these things are true at the same time. Sometimes I wonder if my experience in the Peace Corps didn’t shake something loose within me. I find myself struggling with things now in ways I didn’t even think were possible. As I struggle to understand them I try to be kind with myself and to remember that the pain of waking up is very, very real.

Honor it. Accept it. Embrace it.

Center

“Welcome to your bodies.”

I lay there in shavasana like I have a thousand times before and cried — openly and from a place that felt so deep. It felt like forever ago that I cried that way. I felt like I was letting go of something I didn’t even know I was holding onto. I felt like I was returning to something ancient, something that humans have been returning to again and again for tens of thousands of years.

I was letting go of Me — not me, but Me. The Self that I convinced myself was real, the identity I still cling to, the person I was or wanted to be, the person who never existed except in my wishings and pretendings. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to practice letting go of that Self, of any concept of self that is static and unchanging.

Yoga was my community before I knew what community really was. Silent, slow, and patient. We were connected through our shared practice, our exchange of energy — a couple dozen people gathered together, all sharing something unique and universal. The desire, the wish, the intention to be awake, to wake up to our lives. I have neglected this part of myself for far too long.


Upon a recent visit to the planetarium with a group of students I learned that, due to the speed of light and the constant expansion of space, we are all at the center of our own observable universe. There is a sphere around us that we can observe, one that extends 13.8 billion light-years. Beyond that point we can observe nothing. The sphere moves with us, and everyone has a different sphere.

This reminds me that there are no straight lines, no linear progressions. Everything changes, everything is in flux. Our world is not static, and neither are we. No matter how far I go, a step, a mile, a million-billion-trillion miles, to the end of my universe, I am always at the center. I will have moved nowhere at all.


“people leave
because
unlike matter
that has firm, solid, strong
molecules
people are made up of
air, fire, earth and water
that change shapes
that keep moving
that cannot stop
and let them be
the things they want
the shapes they like
because
in the end
you too will grow
into something
entirely new
so let them go”


― Noor Unnahar, Yesterday I Was the Moon


What we take in changes us. Breath, experience, love, hate, cruelty, grief, joy, elation, relief, everything. That is why Me is always in flux. The only way to prevent this kind of change is to be closed, to the deny the very nature of our existence. What kind of life would that be? A torturous one, no doubt, though I find I am pretty good at torturing myself sometimes.

Just like the breath, the things I take in every day and in each given instant can only be held for a time and must be let go. I can only hold for a moment, but that moment is all that matters. Because we are always, in any given moment and any given place, the center of our own universe.

So let go of self and just be, always at the center. Let change and impermanence overtake you and inhabit the very nature of everything you do.

Waking Up

“All activities should be done with one intention…that intention is that we want to wake up…everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or to put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us.”

-Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty

I put myself to sleep when…

I choose to check out instead of staying present…I let frustration take hold of me and weave a story line…I try to avoid mundane tasks by doing many things at once instead of practicing mindfulness, because even brushing my teeth has the potential to awaken me…I rush from one task to the other, from one place to the next…I don’t consider where my food comes from, or where it’s going…I let my desire for convenience lead me to ignore or accept waste…I mindlessly indulge my addictions…I soothe myself without intention.

I wake up when…

I extend kindness and compassion to others, even strangers…I take care of myself, listen to myself, teach myself, love myself…I allow the present moment to be exactly what it is without trying to change it…I am mindful of my surroundings and how they are impacting me and I them…My internal and external worlds flow and communicate openly…I practice honesty and open communication…I accept sensitivity and vulnerability and let it be so.


How do I wake up even while engaging in those activities that put me to sleep? Maybe it’s not to much about avoiding those activities, but about finding a way to wake up while doing them. Maybe it’s not about changing the activity itself but the way I relate to it. To slow down. To listen. To accept the world as it is.

We are so good at hurting each other and ourselves. Practicing kindness in everything I do while accepting that hurt is inevitable seems like my most difficult task in life, but also the most important.

Past Present Future

There is light in my life again. The rays penetrate through the gloom more and more often to illuminate the things that are present with me here in my life every day. My students. The people I work with. The friends I see every day. What once felt shriveled, small, and dry I can now feel expanding, filling, growing plump once again. 

Missing feels less desperate and more appreciative. It’s been almost 8 months since I left Thailand. I cannot wrap my head around that truth. It feels huge. It feels impossible. How could it be that long ago? It still feels too close to my heart for 8 months to have passed. Temporal distance doesn’t match the physical or the emotional. It hardly ever does, does it?

What an incredible shift. I remember sitting in a coffee shop one evening talking to a dear friend about what I was going through during our transition back to life in the US and saying to him through tears that I would look back on this time in my life and think about how hopelessly miserable I was. So often while I am in the midst of suffering it feels like the only feeling that has ever existed, like it will last forever. And yet, here I am. What a testament to impermanence. 

I feel almost ready to pass through into whatever is next. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be back there again, but today I feel an immense amount of relief and a surprising amount of hope. I feel ready to be here and now in a way that will carry me towards a future that feels nourishing, connective, challenging, interesting, and meaningful. 


Despite my efforts to remain present, the memories still linger. I still think about that incredibly unique feeling of newness and excitement that I felt during those first days on my new journey in Thailand. I still miss the incredibly affirming environment we made for ourselves. I can still feel the heat of those summer days as I rode my bike through the farms and by the schools of my village. I can still feel the love that grew so slowly but so surely in that place — a slow, purposeful opening of selves that grew into a connection that felt almost impossibly deep. I can still feel the pacing of that life, so much less rushed, so much more forgiving, in a way. It is hard not to draw comparisons and contrasts between that life and this one, between this self and that one. 

My heart still holds onto these things, and I cannot ask it to let go.

ฉันยังคิดถึงเธอทุกวัน

Breathing

I sit cross-legged, hands held together like a little bowl with the tips of my thumbs pressed lightly together, a technique I learned from observing the Buddhist monks in Thailand. My back is as straight as I can make it, but I keep my shoulders loose. Neck neutral, a slight bend downward to take pressure off of the spot where my spine meets the base of my skull. I loosen my jaw and make sure to relax my tongue so it doesn’t cling to the roof of my mouth. Eyes closed, I try to breathe without affecting any particular depth or volume. Sometimes I let out an an om or two to feel the vibration in my body.

I breathe as I have done countless times before. Active thought isn’t required here, but I can choose to be mindful about what my body is doing all on its own, to notice and pay attention to a subconscious, natural process. This attention to something so innate and so beyond my control, something I do even while I sleep, can be so grounding. It brings me into the present moment, even if only momentarily. Sometimes, it is so easy to hold that space where the present moment is the only one that matters. Most often, however, thoughts flow easily to past and future. When this happens, as it inevitably will, I try only to acknowledge it as thinking, without judgement of the thought or of me having had it, and simply let it go. I try as hard as I can not to analyze it, hold onto it, or remember it. Often, it doesn’t work, but the effort is comforting. I practice not grasping onto my thoughts. Always, I return to the breath.

This is the same way I learned to meditate from reading Pema Chodron’s books all those years ago. It is the same way I meditated on the tile floor of my little house by the lime orchard in Thailand, frogs croaking in the damp night, and much the same way I meditated during those early days of practice more than six years ago when chaos and confusion were the only constant forces in my life. I have sat in meditation in so many places and so many times, but they are all connected. Each of those moments in time is the same moment. Each of those places is the same place.

It feels so incredibly human. It feels wholly spiritual, in a way that completely lacks pretension, belief, or magic. It feels like coming home to myself.

The breath.

Inhale. Drawing in.

Holding. A moment of transition.

Exhale. Letting go.

Another transition. Emptiness. Loss. Relaxation.

This cycle continues forever. When we hold in at the top or dwell on the bottom transition we create an imbalance. We hold our breath or we refuse to draw another one. When we hold things without letting them go we cannot draw a full breath, we cannot draw in as much. By refusing to let go we are making it harder to draw in as much as we otherwise could. We make it harder to create the space we need to let people in. We must also grieve, experience the loss of what we have let go, cultivate acceptance, and find joy in the emptiness, the tranquility, or the absence of a thing.

We can find ourselves with ourselves and savor it. We can know that we are loved. We can know that our struggle is not ours alone, that the present is the only place that matters, and that each of those moments that came before and that will come after are there in that infinite present moment as well.

It feels almost divine. What an incredible privilege it is to share something in which every human has shared.

What an incredible blessing it is to breathe.

insideout

I am made of stone, earth, and moss. I move so slowly that I appear to be frozen. A latticework of branches, leaves like fingers to soak up the rays of the sun. Bones made of shale, granite, and limestone. A mind made of rain-heavy clouds, eyes like hailstones. I move lethargically in no particular direction to no particular purpose, every moment the same one. Now is the only thing that matters.

This is the external life. Forces of nature, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The world as it is, unencumbered by analysis, explanation, or interpretation. The internal life is the one known only to me, to each of us individually. It is the vast ocean depths, qualia, and subjective experience. I can only attempt to capture, describe, and explain this internal experience and release it into the world as it is, but it will never be fully understood as I understand it, just as the subjective experience of each individual is theirs and theirs alone.


I always seem to come back around to the same places. Old hurts and old loves circle back around and become relevant again, allowing me to learn from them anew or be reminded of the same lesson in a new context.

I have trouble letting go of things, places, and people. I always have. I try to cultivate a sense of acceptance about the innate impermanence of all things, but the struggle continues. I try to imagine pulling these experiences into my internal world, into my mind, heart, and body, and letting them sit for a moment or two, or three. While they are there I absorb a part of them just as they absorb a part of me. And when I am done I release them back into the external world. They are imbued with my essence just as I am imbued with theirs.

The holding comes more naturally to me than the letting go does. The holding takes effort. It taxes. It has a price. I have to let it go and allow space for the next experience to come in and exchange its energy with mine, to take part in this exchange that is our lives, that makes the world turn, and that makes the human experiment beautiful.

And, as always, I reserve the right to change. To change my mind, my life, my heart, my place, my person. The only moment that matters is now. The only place, here. And here, I am beautifully imbued with the essences of the experiences and people that have been a part of my incredibly lucky life.

I can’t hold them forever. I have to let them go. But they have all made their mark. They have all changed me, just as I will change again. And again. And again.

And again.

Broken Sky

Someone I love once told me that if there is something wrong with me, it’s because there is something wrong with all of us. That notion has stuck with me for a long time. Through all of the hard days, the pain in various forms, and the general sense of not being enough, this thought still sticks with me. It reminds me that my struggle is everyone’s struggle — it is our struggle. It reminds me that there is something endemic to being human, something so fundamental to our existence that we all share it. That something is a profound, ever-present, and inexplicable lacking.

I don’t know why I’m writing this. I don’t know exactly why I write anything. Maybe for beauty. Maybe for self-satisfaction. Maybe to feel better. Maybe to share and connect. Maybe all of those things. Regardless, I feel compelled to spill myself out onto these pages. I feel compelled to be seen, as we all do in our own ways. I want to feel like I’m not crazy. I want to be reminded that I am not alone, that none of us are. I’m not the only one that’s broken.

Broken is the human condition.

The sky after a storm has always been one of my favorite things. Bright blue speckled with shades of gray, pastel hues, and refracting sunlight, or a blazing sunset made even more brilliant by hulking clouds and rain-washed air. It is my favorite metaphor for life. It represents so many things for me. Beauty, chaos, clarity, contrast, passion, pain, timelessness, uncertainty, impermanence, anger, fury, forgiveness, and renewal. The most beautiful thing to me is that all of those things need to be there. Nothing needs to be thrown away, discarded, or ignored. Nothing can exist without its opposite. Just like us. Within us exist so many contradictory ideas and emotions. They sit together occupying the same space.

Our inability to accept this duality is what causes us so much pain. Our struggle to simultaneously hold two contradicting emotions in our heart at the same time creates a dissonance that rings throughout our bodies in ways that are deeper and more extensive than we know. This is not our fault. It is built into us. It is built into our DNA

We inhabit a world that was never meant to make sense, and cursed with minds driven try.  

The sky after a storm is like a life splashed across the sky for us all to see. It is heartache and pain. It is joy and celebration. It is death and rebirth. It is new and ancient. No two skies will ever be the same, and yet beautiful skies have been around longer than there have been minds, eyes, and hearts here to consider them, deem the beautiful, or be touched by that beauty. To conduct our short little lives amidst a backdrop of such complex beauty and natural splendor is nothing short of miraculous.

It’s so easy to forget that the sky is up there waiting for us to see it. We spend most of our days with our heads looking forward or down. We trod along the paths we have set out for ourselves as we have convinced ourselves that there is no other way, that all of these things we do must be done. Occasionally, we cast a furtive glance upward, and if we’re lucky enough we can catch a glimpse of that beautiful sky, and even more rarely are we able to stop and consider it, to let it slow us down enough to reflect and ponder.

Every time that it happens I feel as if I am remembering something I always knew but somehow seem to forget so easily. It is a grounding, humbling, beautiful experience that reminds me how incredibly small I am in the best possible way.

Small things are precious. They are delicate. They are hard to see without intention and care. They are incredibly easy to miss. We are all of these things and more. Being small does not make us less significant. Everything within that sky is equally meaningless and miraculous.

It means exactly as much as it doesn’t mean anything at all.

 -w.

Aether

Out into the aether the words go.

I don’t even know what to say anymore. Here I am at the realization of so many years of hard work, of chances taken, and of painstaking efforts to try and open my heart to the world.

Being here now all I can think is,

Now what?

What’s next?

Do I just exist for the next 50 years? Have a career? Heap pile upon pile of responsibilities upon myself until I drown in them or lose my mind? Move to a mountaintop and forget the rest of the world ever existed? Start a new life? Chase the old one? Walk the razor-thin line in the middle? Practice acceptance and moderation? Let go of everything? ‘

Why can’t I just be somewhere? Why is the present so elusive? Why is acceptance a constant struggle?

Who do I become now? A collection of signals, sense data, and needs assessments tricked into calling itself “I” interacting with other waves, endlessly bouncing off of one another. Out into the aether…


My human heart feels far away. That person who relished connection, who believed in oneness, who sought out and embraced vulnerability feels so far from me now, and I miss him.

I miss that person who was finding out who he was before he discovered that he didn’t know. I miss a life in limbo where nothing was decided and existence felt fresh. I miss the inbetween.


I know you’re out there. I know you’re listening. I know that understanding comes with a grasp and a furrow and I am grateful for the effort. 

I want you to know how proud I am of you. I want you to know how happy I am for you. 

I want you to know so many things I can never say. I want to know them too. 

-w.